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Bush: Israel would respond to an Iraqi attack

Bush and Sharon meet Wednesday at the White House.
Bush and Sharon meet Wednesday at the White House.

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The Bush-Sharon meeting sidesteps Israel's response if attacked during a U.S.-Iraq conflict. CNN's John King reports (October 16)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Israel would deliver "an appropriate response" if Iraq attacked it without provocation, President Bush said Wednesday after a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Bush and Sharon met the same day the president signed a resolution authorizing him to use U.S. forces to disarm Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

The U.S.-Iraqi confrontation has raised fears that Iraq would attack Israel, as it did during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. In that conflict, the United States persuaded Israel to leave the response to U.S. forces.

Bush said he still hopes military action would not be needed to enforce U.N. resolutions on disarmament, but he did not discuss whether he had sought any similar restraint from Sharon.

"If Iraq were to attack Israel tomorrow, I'm sure there will be an appropriate response," Bush said. "If Iraq were to attack Israel tomorrow, I assume the prime minister would respond."

Sharon has said Israel would respond to any attack by Iraq. He praised Bush's stand against terrorism and said, "We never had such relations with any president of the United States as we have with you."

Bush also warned the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah against any attacks on Israel during an Israel-Lebanon dispute over water rights from the Wazzani River in southern Lebanon.

"We'll make it clear to Hezbollah -- nations housing Hezbollah, whether in the context of Iraq or not -- we expect there to be no attacks," Bush said. "This is terrorist activity, and we will fight terror wherever terror exists."

Lebanese officials began pumping water from the river Wednesday to supply villages in southern Lebanon. The river feeds the Sea of Galilee, Israel's largest source of fresh water, and Israeli officials have said they consider the diversion of its waters a serious threat.

The Syrian- and Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which fought Israeli troops in southern Lebanon during a two-decade Israeli occupation, has said it would respond to any Israeli efforts to stop the pumps.

"We expect Hezbollah not to attack our friend," Bush said. "We will work with Israel, and we will work with other nations to make it clear to them our position on harboring terrorist activities."

The U.S. government lists Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

In Jerusalem on Wednesday, Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat held another session with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres in their continuing series of meetings to discuss several key issues.

Erakat said the two discussed a withdrawal by Israeli forces from cities currently occupied by Israel, the lifting of closures and curfews in several towns, and the transfer of funds by Israel from Palestinian taxpayers to the Palestinian Authority.

Nothing was agreed to, Erakat said, but the two plan to meet again either Sunday or Monday.

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